The Maui Blues
Amazon Services, November 2005
THE MAUI BLUES
In desperation, I threw the line and saw Eric catch it in one strong hand. Despite the great pull of wind-whipped green seas and buckshot rain, he flung a leg over the bulwark and hung on.
Collapsing with relief, I relaxed my grip on Aurora, a split-second too soon. Another foaming green monster roared up on the quarter and crashed aboard. The force swept her down the steeply angled deck, a tangle of brown arms and legs, then she was over the bulwark that Eric clung to. With a move grounded in love and desperation, Eric let go of the line he held and grabbed her, then they were both enveloped in the tumbling white rush of saltwater.
I woke. My heart pounded, my mouth hung open and I tried to pull in a breath. The picture of them both hanging onto that strip of wood crystallized and shattered. I shook my head, remembered and fell back onto the bunk with a groan that tore at my dry throat. Aurora wasn't lost overboard. She was safe, sleeping in the owner's cabin aft, the one she and Eric shared.
Eric was lost overboard six days ago, only hours after our frenzied departure from the Mexican port of Cabo San Lucas. In exquisite detail, I relived those horrible moments when I realized I couldn't save both of them. Holding onto Aurora I watched as Eric, his hand outstretched and his cloud gray eyes looking into mine, fell backwards into the green sea and was lost forever.
I rolled from the chartroom sea berth. I hated waking like that. There was no escaping my own dreams and it was useless to try anymore.
Through the chartroom door I could see Troy slouched in the canvas chair at the helm, one bare foot on the wheel.
On deck, the stars poured their ancient light from a black sky and the breeze sighed, warm, clean and steady over the starboard quarter. The freshwater wash down hose could not completely rinse away the sticky dank of my fever dream and my karma still bore a dark and stubborn smudge. lit a cigarette and headed aft.
"I'll take the watch."
"Yer an hour early, man, but if you want to..." Troy held his hands palm up and shrugged his big shoulders. With the awkward grace of a weight-lifter he pulled himself upright and stepped away from the wheel.
"Course is west-nor-west, wind 16 or 18 knots."
"Got it." I settled into the seat, took the wheel in my hands and immediately felt the agitations of a complicated life slip away in the burble and sigh of the wake. The heave and moan of a wooden sailing vessel under a big spread of sail pulled the cares away.
Steering a boat under sail could always take me out of myself, and this one did a very good job of it. 70 feet on deck, the EMILY M. THOMPSON was a stays'l schooner whose fifty year old timbers had just saved most of us from the first Western Pacific hurricane of the season.
Most of us, but not all. Along with Eric, Alejandro Pena, late of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police, had also gone over while they savagely battled each other, heedless of the storm, over Aurora Santiago. The next day, Mike Halsey, deep in despair at the loss of Eric, performed the ultimate act of commitment and quietly slipped over the side himself.
For the millionth time I silently rejected responsibility for it. I wasn't the skipper then, and was barely so now. The THOMPSON was Eric's boat, Troy and Mike his crew. Eric Carlsson and Alejandro Pena, driven by an obsession for Aurora, had fought each other and the sea had claimed them both.
I noticed Troy had not gone below but seemed to be hanging around the chartroom door. Maybe he was waiting for Sara, but she wasn't due on watch for another hour. I had to beat back the urge to order him below. Sara Jameson was her own person and in spite of our two nights of rum and shared danger fueled carnality, we had no "arrangement".
"Bobby, how long before we get to Hawaii?"
Troy's voice rumbled out of the dark. I knew the real reason he wanted to know. He thought his chances with Sara would improve once we reached the islands.
“Don’t call me Bobby,” I said. “We’ll sight the peak today.”
Troy ducked into the chartroom and I heard the shortwave come on. Radio Honolulu was repeating the news of the bloody takeover of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge. The newscast became a series of squeaks and howls, then music as Troy spun the dial.
Bob Dylan sang about helping a woman out of jam but regretted using just a little too much force and in spite of his fingernails-on-chalkboard voice, I felt like he was talking to me alone.
By listening to the radio and paying attention to the wind on the sails, I passed an hour without thinking of Eric. The big compass card, set into the bulkhead of the aft chartroom behind a thick chunk of glass, didn't move more than five degrees either way.
I froze, my gaze turned upward. The leeward edge of the main shivered slightly, and I gave the wheel a spoke, then slowly dropped my gaze and peered into the chartroom ahead of me.
Aurora came up the short ladder, a steaming mug in each hand. With no conscious thought, her legs and hips compensated for the ship’s motion, and it was a marvel.
"I brought you some coffee."
Sipping the strong, hot coffee, I waited. When Eric had gone over and it was obvious he was gone forever, she had tried to throw herself into the raging sea too, but I'd stopped her. Willful and strong, she'd fought like a tiger in a bag, and had raked her nails down the side of my face, but that had been six days ago.
"Bob." I looked at her, and she scootched closer. "I've moved the money and jewels to a different place."
"Good idea." I didn't really think it was a good idea, but with Eric gone, the cash, gold and jewelry belonged to her now and what could I say?
"When we get to Maui, you will have to deal with the...situation."
Situation was a good word for it, I thought. Crazy freaking idea was a better one.
"What are you going to do?"
In the pearl gray light of predawn I could see her hair, black as a crow's wing as the wind billowed it around her cocoa-butter face.
"Don't worry," I said, "turning a pile of cash and jewelry into a load of premium Hawaiian weed shouldn't be much of a problem on a small island. I'll just ask..."
"You do not take this seriously, do you?"
"I take this as serious as a heart attack," I said and tried not to look at her beautiful brown eyes.
"I signed on to help you fulfill Eric's plan and that's what I'm gonna do,” I said. “When we leave Maui, this boat will be stuffed full of the best Hawaiian weed there is, and I promise you, I'll get it to Seattle and get it sold for at least four times as much as we paid for it. Only, don't ask me to explain all the details, ‘cause I’m makin’ this up as we go.”
"Hokay, Roberto, I trust you." Standing, she cupped my lacerated cheek in her warm strong hand for a second then went below to cook breakfast.